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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Vol. 1021 No. 4

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Maternity care and healthcare for women has for too long been an afterthought and even taboo in this State. The roll call of victims of an aggressive religious dogma in healthcare settings is heartbreaking. Far too many Irish women have paid far too high a price. So the new national maternity hospital is absolutely vital for the delivery of modern, progressive healthcare for women in Ireland and everybody wants to see this hospital built and built quickly. But we also have to get it right.

Yesterday, the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, brought a memo to the Cabinet seeking the green light for the development of the hospital on the St. Vincent's site. This was, I believe, a premature move and I welcome that decision has been paused. It is essential that the Oireachtas is afforded the opportunity to scrutinise, consider and debate the details of this proposal. It is right that this will now happen.

The Taoiseach is aware there are legitimate concerns surrounding the ownership structure and the clinical independence of the hospital and there is strong grounds for these concerns given the history of that relationship between church and State which denied healthcare services to generations of women. The Minister for Health stated this morning that he can absolutely 100% guarantee that all women's healthcare services allowable under Irish law will be provided at the new hospital. These guarantees must be cast-iron legal protections and not simply rhetorical assurances. In the same interview, the Minister for Health referred to criticism of the ownership model as a “red herring”. That is not a fair characterisation of what are well-founded concerns. The State proposes an investment of €800 million possibly increasing to €1 billion when all is said and done. That is taxpayers’ money; the State should own the hospital and the ground that the hospital is built on outright. That is simple common sense.

Under the Government proposal, we will own the building but not the land which will remain in private ownership. That makes absolutely no sense when the State is footing the bill. We need a publicly built maternity hospital on publicly owned land, delivering public healthcare services for women to a standard of excellence. Instead what is proposed is a convoluted maze in which the Sisters of Charity have transferred the land to a holdings company that then leases the land to the State. It is all very messy, unnecessarily so, and it is stoking unease and worry. People ask why on earth is this happening. Surely the best solution is for the Sisters of Charity to have gifted the land to the State and to ensure and guarantee full public ownership of the entire hospital. This would protect the State's investment and address so many of the concerns of so many who fear still that religious dogma could compromise the delivery of healthcare.

Tá an t-ospidéal náisiúnta máithreachais nua róthábhachtach. Caithfimid é a fháil i gceart chun neamhspleáchas cliniciúil a chinntiú agus infheistíocht phoiblí a chosaint. Ní mór don Rialtas úinéireacht Stáit iomlán a chinntiú den talamh ar a bhfuil an t-ospidéal le tógáil.

We have to get this right and we have to work together to get it right. I will put the proposition simply: we need to achieve full State ownership for the new hospital and the land on which the hospital is built. This has to be done before any contracts are signed.

Will the Taoiseach work urgently to convince St. Vincent's Healthcare Group to gift that land to the State?

At the outset, I would like to say that my only motivation here, as Taoiseach, is to ensure we make a decision that provides a modern, world-class maternity and neonatal hospital and facility for the women of Ireland now and into the future and that will allow all services legally permissible in the State now and into the future to be provided to the women of Ireland. That is the objective and motivation I have as Taoiseach. However, I want to see it done. I do not like hanging around forever. We should get it right. However, the latest phase of this co-location proposal began in 2013. It is now 2022. How long more do people want to wait? How many more years are women expected to go to a hospital that is physically not for purpose, as the current Holles Street hospital is? There are Nightingale wards. There are physical transfers of women with complications from Holles Street to St. Vincent's hospital. That is simply not good enough in the 20th century. Cork University Maternity Hospital was built and commenced during my time as Minister for Health. I sanctioned it and we got it built. Admittedly, that was two State hospitals coming together to provide state-of-the-art maternity and neonatal facilities. Nothing has happened since in terms of maternity facilities. The existing facilities of the other maternity hospitals are very old buildings.

Collectively and politically, we have responsibilities to decide too. We must make decisions. I accept legitimate concerns were raised. They have been comprehensively addressed and not via rhetoric but by legal guarantees and documents that have been published and that I implore the Deputy to read. The initial concerns were around clinical governance, operational independence and financial independence. Those have been comprehensively addressed via the constitution of the new national maternity hospital. There are the articles of association and the golden share the Minister has to ensure the reserved powers within the constitution are implemented in terms of all legally-permissible services being made available and provided.

It has now moved on to ownership. I respectfully suggest leasing land and a building for 300 years at a tenner per year is ownership, by any stretch of the imagination. That is public ownership by any historic or objective analysis. It will be a 300-year lease at a tenner per year. That is what the agreement states and to me that is public ownership.

I ask people to read the documentation and to go through the operating licence the HSE will be giving to the new national maternity hospital. It is very clear in respect of what obligations are there on behalf of the hospital to deliver all services to the women of Ireland to ensure we have better outcomes.

Remember all of this happened because expertise 20 or 25 years ago was telling us we needed to co-locate for the safety of women and better outcomes with deliveries. That was the original motivation behind co-location. That is why it happened in Cork.

This was to happen many years ago. The Mulvey agreement was published in 2016, I think. The current agreements are a significant advancement on Mulvey due to the golden share but also the public interest directors. It is now three being appointed by the Minister, three by the national maternity hospital and three by St. Vincent's Healthcare Group. I ask people to read the documentation and accept there are now legal guarantees provided that are cast-iron.

Undoubtedly, all the documentation, the publication of which I welcome, will be studied, scrutinised and considered very carefully. However, I raised with the Taoiseach the ownership of the land and he has responded by reminding us we are looking at a 300-year lease at a cost of €10 per year.

That begs the question as to why lease on those terms and why did the Sisters of Charity just not make a clean transaction of it and gift the land to the State. That would copper-fasten and clarify the absolute public ownership of the facility. It would give the reassurances that are necessary, not for a small minority but for wider public opinion in terms of the governance, the independence etc. of the hospital.

By the way, I accept the Taoiseach's bona fides in wishing to see this project advance. As somebody who availed of maternity services in my time in this State, I can tell the Taoiseach we all have a vested interest in seeing that advance. I am not challenging that for a moment. I am raising this issue of ownership because it is a matter of genuine concern.

I thank the Deputy. The time is up.

I put it to the Taoiseach again that we work together to move from this convoluted leasing arrangement to simply a gifting of this land to the State so that we have a public first-class centre of excellence for women, publicly built on public land.

What is Deputy McDonald's difficulty with a lease of 300 years, essentially, for €10 a year? Is that not, essentially, a gift of the land?

No. Legally, it is not.

Of course, it is.

Sorry, it is. To all intents and purposes, it is 300 years at a tenner a year. What is the issue then? It will be operationally, financially and clinically independent. All of the legal documentation underpins that, that is, a variety of legal documents from the constitution of the hospital right across to the operating licence the HSE will be providing to the hospital, obliging it to provide all of the services legally permissible in the State.

By the way, within those legal guarantees, there is a clear obligation that no religious ethos will have any hand, act or part in the operation of the hospital and the delivery of services, and likewise in terms of ethnic or other distinctions. It is as clear as it could be.

There is an onus and an obligation also to weigh this up in the balance because, as I said, this latest phase began in 2013. The current Government had the Mulvey agreement, which the previous Government agreed with, as did many Members in the House did also, which also provided guarantees.

The time is up.

Is the Taoiseach's answer to my question, "No"?

My answer is that Deputy McDonald needs to come up with a more substantial argument than the one she has come up with because I am not clear at all-----

The time is up.

-----in terms of what the Deputy was saying in her presentation.

Jeepers, I did not think I could have been clearer.

Deputy McDonald was not clear in terms of what she was quibbling with. Is she saying, for example, services will not be provided? It is not clear at all what Deputy McDonald is saying.

I have raised the issue of the ownership of the land. I would have thought that was abundantly clear.

We are way over time. I must move on.

It was not.

I call Deputy Bacik.

I too want to raise the issue of the National Maternity Hospital. I welcome the decision by Cabinet last night to delay, as I understand it, by at least two weeks, the making of any final decision. I welcome the Minister's commitment to appear before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health, as we had asked. Indeed, I welcome the ongoing publication of documents on the HSE website. I read the documents that were up last night. I note another one this morning. That is important but the concerns around ownership, control and governance of the new national maternity hospital remain, notwithstanding the changes and the publication of those documents.

In particular, the key question everyone is asking is, if this is public ownership in all but name, why not move to public ownership? If a 299-year lease amounts effectively to State ownership, why do we not see a gifting of this site to the State, so that it is truly and beyond doubt within public ownership rather than this Byzantine series of legal arrangements?

I have waded through these documents and they are complex. We have seen legal counsel previously describe these as labyrinthine complex arrangements, making it difficult to establish with certainty the issues of control and governance. These are legitimate concerns that have been raised, including concerns raised by two members of the HSE board. We understand they are legitimate concerns raised by women at the Cabinet table, as a result of which we are seeing this delay. These are legitimate questions and we are asking why we simply cannot move to public ownership.

Why can we not request or require the site on which the hospital is to be built to be gifted to the State or, indeed, move to compulsorily purchase it? We in the Labour Party have been calling for a compulsory purchase order to be considered as an option since as long ago as 2017. That is five years ago. Had the State moved at that time, the site would now be in public ownership and we would not see these ongoing and real concerns around governance and control. There are valid concerns emerging from those documents on governance and control. There are valid and substantive concerns around the control issue when we look at who the directors will be and when we see that the landlord, the St. Vincent's Healthcare Group, will have the right to appoint three directors to the new national maternity hospital designated activity company and, indeed, under the terms of the constitution of that company, will therefore have the right to appoint a chairperson in three years' time on a rotating basis. That means the landlord will have a very strong influence in how the tenant runs its affairs. That is a valid concern arising from the documents.

There is also a valid concern around governance when one looks at the key phrase "clinically appropriate". It is in there twice in the constitution of the new company. It is also included in the operating licence and yet it is not present in the clause around the golden share of the Minister, clause 5.3 in the constitution which states the Minister's golden share is to ensure that the obligations are complied with and that any maternity, gynaecological, obstetric and-or neonatal services which are lawfully available in the State shall be available in the new national maternity hospital. Let us see that phrase used elsewhere and those qualifying and conditional words, "clinically appropriate", removed from the document. Otherwise we are going to continue to have these concerns around ownership, control and the governance of women's healthcare access.

Those words, "clinically appropriate", were imposed by the HSE in the legal document to make sure it would not be a cardiology hospital, a neurology hospital or whatever else. That is all that means.

It is not nonsense. The Deputy cannot just shout "Nonsense" across the floor. That is the reality. The golden share empowers the Minister to enforce the reserved powers within the constitution and the articles of association in terms of all available services. Do you think that Dr. Rhona O'Mahony, for example, a former master of Holles Street Hospital, is making this up? Do you think that Dr. Cliona Murphy, the clinical director of the HSE's national women and infants help programme, is making it up?

Is Dr. Peter Boylan making it up?

They are articulating very strong support for this. Or Mary Brosnan, director of midwifery and nursing at the National Maternity Hospital. Up to 52 clinicians who work in Holles Street are saying this should go ahead.

They are clinicians.

They are saying this deal-----

They are not lawyers.

The Taoiseach without interruption, please.

I think women would trust clinicians maybe more than lawyers in terms of a maternity hospital. I do not want to get into an argy-bargy across the floor of the House. My point is that clinicians are saying that we cannot tolerate any longer the substandard physical accommodation in Holles Street. All of us are saying that we all want it to happen quickly but not just now, let us go another few years, and do a CPO. How long would that take? Is the Opposition seriously suggesting that 300 years at a cost of €10 per year somehow impedes or undermines the clinical independence and financial independence of the hospital? It does not.


Explain how it does. It does not. Deputy Bacik, who is a person of far greater legal reputation and expertise than my good self, knows deep down that 300 years at a cost of €10 per year is essentially public ownership by another name.

Why is it not simply in public ownership?

Why is that arrangement there?

The real issue that was raised legitimately was the State's interest in this and guaranteeing that women will have access to all services that are legally permissible. That was a core issue that was raised some time ago around the whole proposal for co-location. That happened many years ago for the reason I have given, which is that people think that is the way to get the best outcomes. The issue of women being entitled to all services has been comprehensively guaranteed in the constitution of the new hospital, in the operating licence granted by the HSE, which imposes an obligation on the new national maternity hospital to provide such services and in the powers given to the Minister in the form of the golden share to enforce the reserved powers. The arrangement brokered by Mr. Kieran Mulvey only allowed for one public interest director where we are now providing for three ministerial directors to be appointed in the public interest, along with three from the maternity hospital and three from St. Vincent's Healthcare Group.

It is a far more advanced agreement now than was the case, having listened to what people said and responded to the concerns people legitimately raised. There is always balance and perspective in a debate-----

Time is up, please.

-----and I think the balance has now swung very strongly in favour of needing to provide modern, state-of-the-art facilities for the women of this country.

All of us want decent, proper, effective healthcare for women, and particularly for women requiring access to reproductive healthcare, maternity care and gynaecological care. I am not questioning anyone's bona fides and I do not think it is helpful to do so but legitimate concerns remain around ownership, governance and control. Positive changes have been made over the years, largely as a result of Opposition pressure and of pressure from activists and women seeking improvements in services and seeking to ensure we do indeed have a modern, world-class new national maternity hospital. Those concerns still remain, however. This State has an unfortunate and terrible legacy of failing women in our access to reproductive healthcare. It is only four years since we repealed the eighth amendment. Those of us who fought for decades to ensure women would have a right of access to abortion when we need it are very conscious that these rights can be very quickly reversed or overturned, as we are seeing in the US with the terrible news about Roe v. Wade and the potential overturning of that landmark decision for women's rights. That legacy, and the legacy of the State in investing a great deal of public money over the years in building up infrastructure through private hospitals owned by religious orders-----

Time is up Deputy, please.

We are all very conscious of the legacy of our schools and hospitals that have been funded by the State but remain in the ownership of religious orders or their successor or proxy companies. We are all very conscious of that. We need to do better with the new national maternity hospital and with the €1 billion of public money that is to be put into it. We need to ensure women, and all of us, have access to the healthcare we need in the 21st century. That is why we are putting forward these questions. We are doing so in order to be constructive-----

Deputy, the time is up.

-----and to improve healthcare for women in this country.

Women will have that access. That is my point. Women will have that access under these agreements. The Deputy has not pointed out how the 300-year lease at €10 a year will undermine the interests of women-----

Why do they want it?

-----or the access women will enjoy to all these services under the agreements. It has not yet been explained to me how the 300-year lease agreement undermines the provision of those services-----

It is the other way around.

-----or how it undermines the clinical, operational and financial independence of the new national maternity hospital. It does not.

Why not simply move to State ownership?

Why do they want it then?

The constitution of the hospital is very clear and the operating licence provided by the HSE to the new hospital is very clear about the obligation to implement and provide all services legally permissible under the law. It is not comparable to Roe v. Wade because the Oireachtas has acted here, and the people have acted via referendum.

The people have spoken.

We are not comparable to the judicial situation in the United States at all in this regard.

Rights can be undone.

The Oireachtas has legislated here and the provision of all the services that legislation allows is, without question, legally guaranteed in a series of legal instruments that have been published. That is beyond question at this point.

We all want a state-of-the-art national maternity hospital as quickly as possible. The reason for this shambles and this delay is that this Government and successive Governments have insisted that private companies controlled by religious orders must remain in the picture, even though every cent going into building this hospital is public money and that what is wanted is a public hospital being paid for with public money. The Government insists, and successive Governments have insisted, that instead we get a private company influenced by a Catholic religious order. That is the constitution of the new St. Vincent's Holdings company which, interestingly, has been signed - the plot thickens - by people representing a company called Porema Limited and another company called Stembridge Limited. Who are they?

We have the holding company, the Religious Sisters of Charity, the healthcare group, the designated activity company, DAC, and now Porema Limited and Stembridge Limited, which are allegedly associated with thousands of offshore companies. We are in this mess because the Government insists on involving these people in a public hospital that is charged with providing healthcare for the women of this country, and it is influenced by a religious organisation. The Government says our concerns are baseless. Why did two members of the HSE board dissent to the decision to transfer the Religious Sisters of Charity shareholding to this new body, which was set up with the approval of the Vatican? What does it have to do with women's healthcare in this country or approving the overarching company which will own and control the national maternity hospital, as well as three other hospitals? It is unbelievable.

One of those people is Professor Deirdre Madden, who dissented, reportedly on the basis that she had concerns regarding the legal ownership of the site, the building, and the governance and control of the proposed new maternity hospital. The Taoiseach said he is not a legal expert. Maybe we are not all legal experts but, helpfully, Professor Madden is a legal expert. She is a professor of law at University College Cork. She specialises in health law and medical ethics. She was concerned enough to dissent because of ownership, control and governance questions. She clearly has a basis for those concerns. What is the problem with having a publicly-owned and controlled national maternity hospital? The clue about having continued religious influence is in the name of St. Vincent's Healthcare Group. It should gift this land for the national maternity hospital to the State so that it is fully publicly-owned and controlled.

The new hospital is the national maternity hospital, not St. Vincent's Healthcare Group.

Three board members are from St. Vincent's Healthcare Group.

The Deputy has had its say. Let us not try to deepen the plot, for whatever reason the Deputy might want to deepen it. Many conspiracy theories are floating about and to nail one of them, the Vatican should have nothing to do with healthcare in public hospitals, has nothing to do with healthcare at this particular maternity hospital and will have nothing to do with it. Forget about that, since it is totally out of the equation. The involvement of any religious ethos is out of the question. That is clear in the legal documents underpinning this new hospital. A 300-year lease on the hospital for €10 a year has been agreed. Through the constitution of the new hospital, the articles of association and the golden share arrangement, there are cast-iron guarantees that all legally permissible services in the State will be provided today and into the future. The Deputy says that I insist on a private company with a religious influence being part of it. I do not.

If I was starting on it, from now onwards, hospitals would be fully State hospitals. Co-location was correctly identified by experts in medicine and health as being the optimal configuration to produce better outcomes for women, with maternity hospitals co-located on tertiary hospital sites. While it has happened for other locations, the only place it has happened with a major hospital is at Cork University Maternity Hospital, which is on the site of Cork University Hospital. The idea that there would be a relationship between St. Vincent's hospital and Holles Street hospital was mooted 20 years ago. It is not because of any religious ethos, but because it would combine two high-quality hospitals to get better outcomes for women. That was the original motivation, rather than what the Deputy is suggesting.

We do have, historically, a model of healthcare in Ireland that prior to the 1940s and 1950s has been led by religious orders. That was how things evolved historically. In many instances, increasingly this is reducing very significantly. In the case of St. Vincent's University Hospital, they are now out of the equation. They are most certainly out of the equation with regard to the National Maternity Hospital. They have no involvement and they will have no involvement. We need to accept that, at least, as a factual position. There is no religious ethos involved in this new national maternity hospital and there will not be.

They are fantastic staff in St. Vincent's and many of the other hospitals. I predicate everything that I say by making that point. They are fantastic people. The problem with these religious organisations is that, for example in St. Vincent's, one cannot get sterilisation or a vasectomy. Why not? This is a hospital that is publicly funded but owned by a religious organisation that has an ethos that does not believe in and does not want to give certain procedures. They continue to have an influence. In the new St. Vincent's hospital, they have three board members who will be on the holding group, which is the overarching group that will own the four entities, namely, the designated activity company, DAC, for the new national maternity hospital; the private St. Vincent's hospital; the public St. Vincent's hospital; and St. Michael's Hospital, which is in my own area. Why did Professor Deirdre Madden, a professor of law and the vice chair of the HSE have the concerns that she had if they are baseless? Why? Why does St. Vincent's insist on retaining a foothold in the new holding company? Why?

The Deputy's time is up.

Is it because they want hold of an asset? Why do we need a private company that has other private companies as subscribers? Why do we need all of that-----

The Deputy's time is up, please.

-----rather than simply a publicly owned and controlled hospital on public land?

Will the Deputy please conclude?

That is what I mean. That is what is causing the delays. I do not understand why the Government continues to allow them to influence the equation, to be involved in the equation, and ultimately be the cause of the delays we are now suffering.

The Government has very strong legal advice as well, via the Attorney General, on the cast iron nature of the legal guarantees that are provided in these documents to underpin clinical, legal and operational independence of the new national maternity hospital. Let us make that point. Protecting the State's interests was critical in the legal agreements that have been arrived at.

Most importantly, better outcomes for women and for babies delivered at the maternity hospital has to be the key rationale and motivation behind everything that we do. The idea behind co-location is what brought two hospitals together, that is, the hospital at Holles Street and St. Vincent's. St. Vincent's is a separate group, and has been historically, as we know. They have given explanations for what the Deputy has highlighted with regard to the constitution of the St. Vincent's Healthcare Group. Our concern primarily right now has to be the establishment of a national maternity hospital to replace a hospital that is not physically fit for purpose in the 21st century. My biggest concern is that as we continue to debate on this issue, women right now are not getting the physical conditions that they deserve.

The Taoiseach's time is up.

There is also the physical transporting of women with serious complications from one hospital site to another. We must put this to an end. We have to commence putting that to an end, and there is still a journey ahead of us in getting a hospital built. As I have said, one substantial maternity hospital in 20-odd years is not good enough.

There is no role for private companies in this.

I am not sure if the Taoiseach will recall exactly where he was on this day three years ago. He was actually on the Grand Parade in Cork when he quite kindly attended the military veteran's respect and loyalty parade on 4 May. That movement was established, as the Taoiseach is aware, to highlight the very poor terms, conditions and pay for members of the Defence Forces, a phenomenon that is, unfortunately, continuing to this day. To be fair, the Taoiseach was the Leader of the Opposition at the time. He listened to the speeches and I believe that he agreed with the vast majority, if not all, of what was said. Unfortunately, fast forward three years and we are pretty much in the same place. Perhaps we are even a little worse because the Ukrainian situation has highlighted the deficiencies that were pretty much hidden in the past.

To be fair, the Government's and the State's response to the Ukrainian crisis from a humanitarian and economic perspective has been good and commendable. Unfortunately, however, there has been absolutely no appreciable improvement in the country's ability to protect itself despite what has happened in the last 70 days in eastern Europe.

Last weekend, a number of Russian aircraft incurred into Swedish and Danish airspace. Our Scandinavian cousins actually have an air policing service that could detect, intercept and escort those aircraft out of their airspace. Even more sinisterly still, a mock simulated submarine attack against Ireland was played out on Russian state television as well. Again, there is a reason for that. There was a reason why the attack was simulated from the Irish exclusive economic zone, EEZ. Everyone recognises that this country is very poorly protected and is the weak spot from an EU perspective.

To be fair, we should realise this country is militarily defenceless. We really are at the mercy of rogue states like the Russian Federation that can do with us whatever they wish. Can the Taoiseach offer any reassurance to the House that the State's inability to protect itself will be addressed in the short-term and that 100 years after us gaining our independence, we will soon be in a position to protect our territorial integrity and sovereignty?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue and for his consistency in highlighting it, and for his good memory of the significant meeting we had three years ago today at the Grand Parade in terms of the Defence Forces. I take his point more generally that there is clearly a need to upgrade significantly and improve resources and capability in respect of our Defence Forces. We need not just to maintain sufficient military capability but add to and strengthen it.

The Government wanted to get the balance right and have a proper researched approach to this. For that reason, as the Deputy will know, the programme for Government committed to the establishment of an independent Commission on the Defence Forces. That commission was established within the first six months of the Government and its report was published in February.

The report is a very significant body of work amounting to over 180 pages. It had a very wide process of consultation with nearly 500 public submissions. The commission met a wide stakeholder group, conducted site visits across a large number of military locations around the country and met with more than 1,000 Defence Forces members and their representative associations. As the Deputy knows, the report proposes very significant changes for the Defence Forces and covers high-level Defence Forces structures, defence capabilities, organisation, culture and human resources, the Reserve Defence Force, RDF, and above all funding.

There are three indicative levels of ambition. Level of ambition one represents current capability. Level of ambition two represents enhanced capabilities, which would involve building on current capability to address specific priority gaps in our ability to deal with an assault on Irish sovereignty and serve in high-intensity peace support, crisis management and humanitarian relief operations overseas. This would involve a significant defence funding increase of €500 million per annum above current defence spending. Level of ambition three would involve developing full-spectrum defence capabilities to protect Ireland and its people comparable to similar-sized countries in Europe. The report sets out costings of approximately €3 billion per annum for this.

These are, therefore, very significant recommendations with very significant implications, particularly in respect of expenditure. There have been interdepartmental consultations. The Minister for Defence will bring forward a memo to Government in June in respect of that consultation between Departments and in respect of the recommendations with a view to the Government making decisions then within a timeline as to how we would enhance and strengthen our overall capabilities.

We also accept that in the modern era, security challenges are such that they cannot be met individually on your own in the sense that we are part of the United Nations and of European Union security and defence discussions and the strategic compass in particular, which provides a political and strategic direction for EU security and defence policy for the next ten years.

My big concern is the length of time this process is taking. The Commission on the Defence Forces was established at the end of 2020 and we still do not have an outcome or result. One of the international members of the commission gave some public commentary a couple of days ago in which he described our Defence Forces as not being fit for purpose. Those views were echoed by the Chief of Staff yesterday, which is a fairly scandalous indictment of what has happened over recent decades from an investment point of view. I urge the Government to be as ambitious as possible in terms of both the content and the timing of the delivery of this. We have no idea where the Ukrainian crisis is going, whether it is going to escalate or whether Ireland will become involved against its will, which is not entirely our decision. I urge the Taoiseach to be as ambitious as possible. I look forward to that memorandum going to the Government in the next number of weeks.

Obviously, the key issue will be resources and the level of expenditure increases we can accommodate within the broad range of challenges and pressures on Government expenditure more generally. We accept the basic point that we need to enhance and strengthen our military capability, not least because the world has changed. The immoral and unjustifiable war on Ukraine in many ways reveals certain vulnerabilities in European-wide security and the security of the European Union. Moreover, in light of other threats, from cybersecurity to hybrid threats, it is not all about conventional welfare. We need to strengthen our expertise and capability in cybersecurity, which we are doing and in respect of which we are allocating expenditure. We also need to work with other member states in combating that and other forms of hybrid warfare.